It can be very difficult to decide whether or not to report rape or sexual abuse, and there may be many reasons why a survivor feels they do or do not want to do so. It is a very personal decision and there is no right or wrong thing to do.
If you have been raped, assaulted or abused you can report it any time to the police, although if you report the assault very soon after it happened then it will be possible to collect more forensic evidence. If you would like to talk through your choices with someone, we are happy to do that with you.
Our Independent Sexual Violence Advocate (ISVA) can provide impartial advice and support around reporting to the police. If you decide to report, she can provide ongoing support throughout the process. Go to our ISVA page for more information about contacting her or referring yourself or someone else.
What will happen if I go to the police?
Making the initial report
You can report by calling 101 (or 999 if it’s an emergency) or going into a police station in person. An ISVA may also be able to accompany you through the reporting process, if this would feel more comfortable. A police officer (who could be male or female) will take a first account of what happened. Based on this they will decide what they think should happen next, and explain the process you would go through. The next stage will vary slightly, depending how long ago the assault or abuse happened.
Reporting a very recent assault
If you decide to report within about a week of an assault, there may be forensic evidence that can be collected via a forensic medical exam. The police will usually take you to a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) for this. In the Thames Valley area, these are in Slough, Bicester and Bletchley (near Milton Keynes). The doctor carrying out any forensic medical exam will ask your consent before doing anything, and you will be free to stop or pause the exam at any time.
If you report a rape very soon after it happened, in order to preserve forensic evidence, the police advise against doing these things:
- Using the toilet or discarding underwear or sanitary products
- Washing, showering or bathing
- Washing your hands
- Removing, washing, discarding or destroying clothing worn at the time of the rape or afterwards
- Drinking or eating anything, including non-essential medication
- Cleaning your teeth
- Disturbing the room or other location where the abuse took place, or allowing other people or animals to enter
If you do any or all of these things it doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t report a rape, but if you decide to report it, it can help to bear this list in mind.
Something else the police might ask early on is whether you’d be willing to use an Early Evidence Kit to collect some forensic evidence before travelling to a SARC for a full exam. This usually involves a mouth swab or rinse and a urine sample that you take yourself. This means you may then be able to do things like eat, drink and smoke without worrying about losing evidence.
Reporting less recent sexual violence
You can report incidents of sexual violence at any time, even if it happened many years ago. The police should still take this seriously and undertake a full investigation based on what you tell them. If you report something that happened more than about a week ago, you will still give an initial account to the police but will usually not undergo a forensic medical examination or visit a SARC. You may still choose to visit a GP or GUM clinic if you’re worried about illness or injury after the assault.
After the initial account and forensic exams
You are likely to be assigned a Specially Trained Officer (STO) who will be your main point of contact throughout the reporting process. STOs are trained in supporting people who have experienced sexual abuse or rape, and will also be able to provide you with information about other places of support.
A police officer (usually a STO) will ask you to provide a full account of what happened, either by taking a written statement or doing a visually recorded interview. They can advise on the pros and cons of these options, but you can decide which you would prefer.
Once you have given a full statement, the police can begin investigating fully. Gathering evidence often includes interviewing or arresting the person suspected of carrying out the attack.
What if I'm not sure if I want to report?
You can refer yourself to a Sexual Assault Referral Centre and have a medical examination without reporting to the police first. This means the results will be kept confidential and stored at the SARC in case you decide to report the rape or assault in future.
There is more information about this on the Sexual Assault Referral Centre page.
It is possible to have somebody with you at each stage (although they may sometimes be required to wait outside a room) – a friend, family member, or special advocate can all be with you to support and listen to you.
Once the investigation is complete
The police will pass on the information they have gathered through their investigation to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The CPS will decide whether or not the suspect can be charged with an offence. Once the suspect is charged, the investigation comes to an end and court proceedings will begin.
It is not possible to say exactly what will happen in each case, but if they get to court, most rape and sexual assault cases are heard in a Crown Court in front of a jury.
The police can apply to the CPS for special measures to be considered to enable the victim to give their best evidence. Each case will depend on the circumstances and individual need, but special measures could include:
- Screens – shielding the victim from the view of the accused
- Live link – enables a live televised link from one room into the court room or from a separate building
- Evidence in private – removing all unnecessary personnel, public and press but allowing one nominated press representative to remain
- Visually-recorded evidence – this is the visually-recorded statement that the victim gives to the police which can then be played to the court as the victim’s ‘evidence-in-chief’
- Removal of wigs and gowns – generally used for younger people
- Intermediaries – assisting victims with communication difficulties In most cases, your trip to the SARC will be kept completely confidential. The only exception is if there is a serious risk of harm to you or to others. You can ask for this to be explained to you before you make any decisions if you are concerned
Why was my case not taken forward / Why were they found not guilty?
Unfortunately, some rape/sexual assault cases do not reach the stage of going to court, even if this is what the survivor wants. Reports can be ‘no-crimed’ by the police. This is when a crime is reported but when the police believe there is ‘additional verifiable evidence’ that no crime has been committed. However, the police have been challenged for their reasons for ‘no-criming’, and as to whether they always follow this guideline. Reports which are ‘no-crimed’ will not be investigated further or passed to the Crown Prosecution Service.
It is also possible that the CPS will decide not to charge the alleged perpetrator if they believe the evidence does not meet the standard of proof required to secure a conviction in a court case.
Similarly, if the case does reach court, it is possible a not guilty verdict will be returned if the jury believes that the allegation has not been proved beyond all reasonable doubt.
Regardless of whether the police and the CPS decide to pursue your case, and regardless of the verdict, we will always believe what you tell us about what has happened to you. The standard of proof required for a guilty verdict in a court case is high, and the pervasiveness of rape myths can contribute to making this difficult to achieve. Your case being dropped or a not guilty verdict does not make you a liar. The false allegation rate for rape is around 4%, the same as for any other crime.
Anonymous Reporting to Thames Valley Police
What is it?
Anonymous reporting allows survivors over the age of eighteen to report sexual offences to the police without giving their name.
It is a system set up by Thames Valley Police that went live in October 2017. The purpose of this new way of reporting is to provide Thames Valley Police with a greater understanding of rape offences across the area and, in certain circumstances, it will give them the opportunity to safeguard victims from further offences. This is generally a pathway for sharing information, not a pathway for action or justice.
Who will I make the report to?
You will make the report to your ISVA if you do not wish to be identified. The ISVA will then report the offence anonymously to Thames Valley Police via 101. This will be reported to the control room and then assessed by the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH). If it is felt that any investigation is required, the report will be sent to the relevant investigative department in the region where the offence took place.
What will happen next?
The police will make ‘proportionate enquiries’ but will not conduct a full investigation. They will essentially do everything they can to both preserve evidence and safeguard anyone they think may be at risk. Most of the time though, especially if it’s a non-recent incident, they will just conduct safeguarding checks and keep the report on file.
The benefits of this system are that police are able to send communications back to you via the ISVA. Also, they will create a searchable record for that offence (and perpetrator) so that if anyone else reports the same person in future it will come up.
What is meant by ‘proportionate enquiries?’
Proportionate enquiries should correspond with the risk to the general public.
Consideration will be given to the fact that you could change your mind and wish for an investigation to proceed. Minimum standards of investigation such as seizing forensic opportunities, seizing CCTV and locating any witnesses should be followed where appropriate.
A risk assessment will be conducted on the suspect if they are known, ensuring any relevant intelligence checks are carried out. Arresting the suspect should only be carried out when a full risk assessment has been completed. Where possible, a Detective Inspector should be consulted. They will consider whether the risk to the victim should the suspect be arrested is outweighed by the risk the suspect provides to other members of the public. If an arrest is considered necessary, your ISVA will be made aware as soon as possible so that you can be informed.
What if I have made an anonymous report outside of Thames Valley?
Other police forces in other areas who don’t have this system will not do this, so if the report is anonymous it will just be ‘no crimed’ and no record will be created. Therefore, no-one would know if the same name came up in future. This is important to know, as if the offence happened in another area, it would not be covered by the TVP system.
What if I decide to make a full report in the future?
It is important for you to know that if you decide to make a full report in the future you would have to be referred to a different ISVA than the one who took the initial anonymous report from you. This is because the initial ISVA would have too much knowledge of the offence from taking the report, which could have implications for your criminal case.
If you do decide to make a full report, this will be done at your pace and with your guidance. You will have the opportunity to have an anonymous conversation with a Specially Trained Officer (STO) who can talk you through what to expect next. Your ISVA will also be able to support you throughout the duration of this process.
Rights of Women have produced lots of information explaining the police procedure and the criminal justice system in detail. Their website also contains lots of information on other topics, such as domestic violence and trafficking.